WASHINGTON — The president wept and spoke eloquently on gun violence. To see cool Barack Obama shed tears over young murder victims is altogether fitting. His cloudburst felt as rare as the Redskins making the playoffs.
But come now. Hired guns in Congress aren’t quaking in their cowboy boots. Obama’s new, improved background checks on gun buyers are hardly Herculean, especially on the eve of the 75th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech.
While America entered World War II, President Roosevelt called majestically for freedom of speech and worship; as well as freedom from want and fear — for the world.
Things are less lofty now. Take Obama’s fleeting peace in Iraq, a patch until ISIS rose in the power vacuum. The dreamy Nobel Peace Prize winner can’t end a “dumb” war that tracks him like a curse.
Obama soared on a peak of “Amazing Grace” last summer when he sang solo at the funeral of slain black churchgoers and a beloved pastor.
Yet his actual actions are not always as sweeping as his beautiful language suggests. This small-stuff pattern in Obama’s presidency leaves a lingering wish for more, sooner, better. And yes, I like him.
On the foreign front, note the president’s silence toward Saudi Arabia since its vile 47 beheadings to start 2016. These are our friends? The House of Saud kingdom was chummy with the House of Bush. With ink drying on the Iran nuclear deal (his greatest achievement, hammered out by Secretary of State John Kerry) we need a hard look at our best frenemies in the volatile region.
On Guantanamo, some prisoners were sent away, but many remain — contrary to the president’s promise to close the dark prison of detainees.
On health care reform, Obama sadly left out the public option, the bill’s teeth. He let Senator Joe Lieberman, who had left the Democratic Party, have his way. The process lost time and ground as Obama courted a Republican senator, Maine’s Olympia Snowe. She never melted.
At first, Obama gave away key points on the board in showdowns (and shutdowns) with Republicans. Extending the Bush tax cuts hurt his street cred with Democratic leaders. They felt the president spent more time with House Republicans than them.
Early fumbling on the Hill showed rookie inexperience. The young John F. Kennedy belonged to the Senate for eight years and earned respect. Obama served a slender two years as senator before starting his presidential campaign in Springfield, the Illinois state capital, comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln.
On gay marriage, an easy political win that generated enormous good will, Obama came late to the game — as the conservative Supreme Court acted. The Paris Agreement on climate change is marvelous — except full of “shoulds” that can’t be enforced, at the president’s behest.
First impressions last. Obama’s stance on Wall Street was soft. Everybody got a pass in the crowd that caused the 2008 crisis, the Great Recession. Not one bad actor was prosecuted.
Roosevelt once assured people he wouldn’t tolerate reckless bankers run amok: “I welcome their hatred.” Always a crowd-pleaser.
It’s painful to recall, but the 2009 Obama economic stimulus package, about $800 billion, was way small. This had woeful consequences, writ large, for the job market to this day. (Macy’s is closing 40 stores.) Facing an emergency, Obama could have stood his ground for more, as the new people’s president.
A modest gun measure on background checks never followed in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, school bloodshed in late 2012. The Senate narrowly voted down a bipartisan gun bill in April 2013. This thwarted the will of the people — maddeningly, since most senators supported it.
Perhaps the disgrace could have been avoided. But Obama scorns horse-trading, the way President Clinton (and Johnson) dealt forcefully with fence-sitters. Only four Democrats opposed the gun bill, including Montana’s Max Baucus — who didn’t want to run again. Was the president too proud to ask, to barter? Months later, Obama named Baucus the ambassador to China. Amazing, in a bad way. A president doesn’t give people plums if they desert him when the stakes are high. That’s elementary.
Here’s the thing: Even if lawmakers fail to act, the president can do something, however small, on gun violence. Obama finally acted in 2016 — but could have done the same thing in 2013.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com.
Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama announces steps the administration is taking to reduce gun violence while delivering a statement in the East Room of the White House in Washington January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque